Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

December 2009
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Kuwait court rules Woman MPs can shun hijab
Kuwait City:
Kuwait's consti­tutional court has rejected a petition brought by four voters to declare invalid the election of two women MPs because they refuse to wear the hijab or headscarf.

The decision of the court, whose rulings are final, was announced to reporters by the chairman of the court, Yussef Ghanam Al Rashid.

Two of the four women who became Kuwait's first female MPs in May refuse to wear the hijab, which has also been spurned by the only woman appointed as a minister in the Kuwaiti govern­ment following the May election.

The voters said the two MPs had flouted a clause in an election law stipulating that women voters and candidates must comply with Islamic Shariah regulations, including wearing the hijab.
Explaining its decision in a written verdict, the court said the election law fails to specify the type of regulations women must adhere to or whether that included wearing the hijab.

It also pointed out that the constitution, which is higher than any law, guarantees personal free­dom and freedom of faith and does not discriminate between people over their religion or sex.
Kuwait does not enforce any dress code on women in the general public because of the constitutional guarantee of personal freedom.
Osborne to make film on the Prophet
A multi-million dollar epic movie in English on Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) is in the making on the initia­tive of a Qatar-based media entertainment company, Alnoor Holdings.
Internationally renowned producer-di­rector Barrie Osborne, with such films as The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix to his credit, has signed up as producer.

The project was announced yesterday at an event here attended by Osborne, along with renowned Doha-based Islamic scholar Dr. Yousuf Al Qaradawi and Ahmed Al Hashemi, chairman of Alnoor Holdings.

"I am inspired by this opportunity to bring such epic entertainment to the world and excited by the chance to inspire and enlighten by bringing the story of one of history's greatest figures to audiences around the world," said Osborne.

Qaradawi will lead the research and serve as technical consultant on the film.

An initial budget of $150 million has been set aside for the film, which is financed by pri­vate investors and the Alnoor Fund, set up by Alnoor Holdings.

The Alnoor Fund is established with an initial capitalisation of $200m to produce international films in English appealing to both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences.

The film, which is currently in the development stage, will draw upon the best international talent. Alnoor Holdings are in discussions with studios, talent agencies and distributors in the US and the UK and it is anticipated that production will commence in 2011.

Al Hashemi stressed the importance of making a film on the Prophet for the global audience. "The story of the Prophet has great contemporary rel­evance for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and Alnoor is delighted to announce it as our first project," he said.

Alnoor Holdings was formally launched in the middle of November with the aim of taking advantage of the growing economic importance of audio-visual enter­tainment and becoming the most dominant international media and entertainment player.
Female Muftis for Dubai courts
In an unprecedented step, Dubai plans to appoint female muftis by the end of 2010. The move could trigger opposition from conservatives, the media has speculated.

Six Emirati women are being selected for a training programme that starts early next year, a popular newspaper quoted the emirate's grand mufti Ahmed Al Haddad as saying.

Haddad issued a religious edict or fatwa in February authorising women to become muftis and in May he called on qualified candidates to apply for a train­ing programme that includes instruction in Shariah law and legal thought.

"A woman who is learned and trained in issuing fatwas is not limited to her role of issuing fatwas that relate to women only, but rather she is qualified to issue on matters of worship, jurispru­dence, morality and behaviour," the paper quoted him as saying.

Haddad played down the pros­pect of a major backlash from religious conservatives.

"The controversy over female muftis is not necessarily over this point, but about whether or not a woman should be appointed as the grand mufti of a state," he said. "And this is not what we're trying to do at this point."

Last year, Egypt appointed its first female Islamic notary with the ability to perform marriages and divorces.

Since 2006, Morocco has trained female guides known as "murshidats” or mourchidates as termed in Morocco's Francophone Arabic, who advise Muslims, especially in prisons, hospitals and schools, the AFP said.
Fort Hood shooting: US Army keen to retain multi-faith character
The US Army's top officer is concerned about a backlash against Muslims in the US military following the shootings at Fort Hood. But, he says, the military's tradition of accepting people from different faiths must never waver.

As investigators sifted through the aftermath of the shootings at the Texas Army base, allegedly carried out by a Muslim Army officer on November 7, Gen. George Casey warned against drawing broader conclusions about the Muslim community.

"Frankly, I'm ... concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers," Casey, chief of staff of the Army, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well."

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is suspected of a shooting rampage at Fort Hood last Thursday in which 13 people were killed and nearly 30 injured. The incident has sparked fear that Hasan was a religious fanatic, once again drawing attention to Muslims in the armed forces. But the overall picture that emerges about their service is hardly one of strife and fundamentalism.

At least 3,500 Muslims are known to be across the military. An additional 283,000 service members have not identified themselves with any religious preference, meaning there could be more Muslims who do not describe themselves that way for military records. Hasan's personnel files did not identify him as Muslim, for example.

In the years since 9/11, the military has made extraordinary efforts to encourage Muslims to join its ranks. Last year, the Army announced a program to pay $150,000 as a signing bonus to Arabic speakers, for instance.

Hasan allegedly felt harassed by fellow service members about his religion, according to a member of his family speaking earlier this week on Fox News.

While racism and religious intolerance exist in American society and the military reflects that, it's unlikely that in today's modern military, a Muslim officer would be overtly harassed: It would be a violation of rank and authority, says one Muslim officer, who says such charges don't ring true for her.

Maj. Aisha Bakkar says that her fellow Marine officers and enlisted Marines have never had a problem with her religious background. On the contrary, she believes that people are receptive to her faith and that the events of 9/11 actually have enlightened a lot of people about Islam.

She says she makes no secret about her faith, and she is proud of her heritage. Her father, from Syria, joined the Marine Corps and flew helicopters.

During her own career, she says, she has sometimes had to step in to correct misconceptions about Islam and Islamic extremism.

The US Armed forces have in their bid to project a tolerant face have in recent years inducted religious chaplains, imams, Hindu priests to conduct the religious ceremonies of the respective faiths.
Islamic Bank to open in Germany
Early next year, the first Islamic bank in Germany offering products that are in compliance with Sharia law will open its doors. The bank, Kuveyt Türk Beteiligungsbank, will open a branch in the downtown area of Mannheim, a city in western Germany, and its branches in other cities.

The regulators with Germany's Federal Financial Services Authority, known as BaFin, recently issued a limited license to the subsidiary of a Turkish-Kuwaiti bank. It is only permitted to collect funds that are transferred to accounts in Turkey that conform to Islamic rules.

In other countries, the banking industry initially catered to Muslims on an equally small scale. But less than 10 years after first entering the market, all major banks in Great Britain now have Islamic divisions, and there are also five Islamic banks in the country.

Worldwide, assets worth well over $700 billion are now being managed in accordance with Islamic principles. In Germany, on the other hand, virtually no banks have so far even addressed this market.

The underlying concept of the Islamic banking business is the prohibition of interest. Like Jesus in the New Testament, Prophet Muhammad took action against the usurers of his time, who exploited their contemporaries by charging them exorbitant interest, sometimes well over 100 percent. Since the 1970s, Islamic banks have sought to satisfy this requirement by offering their customers financial services on the basis of interest-free transactions. Instead of interest, customers are promised a share in the profits of the bank. However, commercial activities can also be financed in which the Islamic saver collects a surcharge at a level similar to conventional interest.

Instead of taking out a loan to build a new factory, for example, a company would offer its investors a share of its profits. The important aspect of all of these transactions is that they are in fact based on a real exchange of goods or services. "The connection to reality must be clear," says Michael Saleh Gassner, a financial expert with the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

Since the financial crisis, the principles of Islamic investors have also attracted the interest of conservative Christian investors. After all, the underlying concept seems so pleasantly removed from the speculative greed of Western financial executives.

Besides, the stock indexes that contain companies selected according to Islamic principles have sometimes outperformed comparable indexes without the religious association. Sharia-compliant banking transactions are "in a position to assume a global leadership role," says Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of the world's most populous Islamic country, Indonesia.

No Investment in Gambling or Sex Trade
Investments that comply with the Koran still represent only one per cent of the total market, but the market is growing by 15 to 20 per cent a year. Customers from the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, in particular, insist that their capital must be invested in accordance with religious criteria.

In addition to the prohibition of interest, it is also important to ensure that funds are not invested in gambling or the sex trade. The Munich-based insurance giant Allianz (AZ) and Deutsche Bank (DB) have set up funds and certificates to satisfy Sharia-based criteria, but these products are only actively marketed in Islamic countries. "It is a business requirement in the Gulf region to offer products that conform to Sharia," says Hussein Hassan of Deutsche Bank in Dubai. The bank's Gulf region division is already responsible for 20 to 25 per cent of profits. In the Gulf region, there are about 10 religious scholars who provide consulting to almost every major Western bank and now have their own large staffs.

This leads to the creation of quasi-religious rating agencies, whose pronouncements have many a London investment banker shaking in his boots. Because different religious leaders interpret the Koran in every country, Deutsche Bank has appointed different Sharia supervisory boards for its businesses in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.

"The products the investment bankers dream up are sometimes bizarre," says Volker Nienhaus, the president of the University of Marburg in western Germany, who has been studying the Islamic banking industry for 30 years. The circumvention of interest stimulates the fantasy of financial engineers, says Nienhaus. For example, an important part of the platinum trade on London's derivatives exchange is indirectly attributable to Sharia. Because platinum, unlike gold and silver, was not a means of payment in Muhammad's day, the precious metal is now used as collateral for short-term financial transactions.

Islam-compliant real estate financing arrangements are considered particularly promising. In these situations, banks and customers purchase real estate together, with the customer contributing a share corresponding to his equity. The bank pays rent for the rest, gradually acquiring the remaining shares. As a result, no interest accrues, but the property acquisition tax is charged twice.

The same problem used to exist in the UK. Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was finance minister at the time, insightfully abolished the double tax burden. The Central Council for Muslims is now calling for similar measures to be taken in Germany. (Source: Spiegel Online)
Halal Food Market is growing in Europe
The Hague:
The business of selling food that is halal, or acceptable to Muslims, is set to grow rapidly in Europe in coming years as more supermarket chains target the sector, a Nestle executive at he World Halal Forum meeting in The Hague. Frits van Dijk, executive vice president at the world's biggest food group, said he expected the halal food business in Europe to grow by 20 to 25 per cent within the next decade.

The total European halal food market is currently valued at about $66 billion, including meat, fresh food and packed food, while the global market is worth about $634 billion.

“We are starting to see that these products are not just in speciality shops but are also starting to get into the mainstream of modern retailers,” said Van Dijk, pointing to Britain's Tesco and France's Carrefour, which stock halal goods.

Milk powder, cooking aids, seasoning and sauces are among the most popular halal products in Europe at the moment, while Nestle has recently started selling a range of meat-based and frozen food halal products in France, Van Dijk said.

Nestle is the world's leading manufacturer of halal food, selling about 5.3 billion Swiss francs ($5.23 billion) worth of halal food in 2008, about 5 per cent of its annual revenue.

Its established halal food markets include Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries, while France, Britain and Germany are emerging as its key halal markets in Europe.

“Twenty percent of the world's population is going to be Muslim one day and they have expectations, they have needs,” said Van Dijk.

“If they want to be confident that what they eat and drink is in line with their beliefs, then a company likes ours has to make an extra effort to try and meet those needs.”

About 85 of Nestle's 456 factories globally are now halal-certified but Van Dijk said different interpretations of halal standards around the world were a challenge for the industry.

Muslim jurists do not always agree on what is halal. Islam prohibits the consumption of pork and prescribes how animals must be slaughtered, but there has been debate on the acceptability of non-alcoholic beer, collagen and vinegar.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is working on a single standard to be applied in its 57 member countries, a move that would boost the industry, although politics and varied interpretations may complicate the task.
Robot to guide traffic at road diversions
The Qatar Scientific Club has designed a robot (see picture) to guide traffic at road diversions. The new innovation warns cars to stop, take care or reduce speed at diversions instead of a worker designated by the Public Works Authority known as Ashghal to do this by raising a red piece of cloth.
The mobile robot, which works 24 hours using solar energy, has been well- tested at the Scientific Club demonstrating a high capa­bility of performance, and is ready to be applied in all areas where roadworks are going on.

The inventor of the new device, Rashid Al Ibrahim, Assistant Secretary of the Scientific Club, said that the club is ready to put to use the robot for Ashghal and the local firms engaged in roads maintenance works, said the local English daily, The Peninsula.

Egypt presents Arabic domain names
Following approval of new multilingual address system by the global regulatory body, Egypt has become the first Muslim country to introduce domain name ending with Misr (the Arabic name of Egypt) after the final dot.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced an end to the exclusive use of Latin characters for website addresses. With the introduction of "internationalised" domain names, scripts such as Chinese, Korean or Arabic will eventually be usable in the last part of an address name — the part after the dot, as in .com and .org. At present, all domain names end in letters from the Latin alphabet.

Pak has world's largest biometric citizen database
Over 85 per­ cent of Pakistan's adult popula­tion has been registered on both biometric and facial recognition systems and the country is way ahead of the United States and India who are in early stages setting up of unique identification systems.

Deputy Chairman of National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) Tariq Malik says Pakistan has established, the world's largest biomet­ric citizen database, enabling elected government to use, identity infrastructure to roll out financial support and other programmes for the benefit of citizens. He said that the evo­lution of e-government, the outreach to poorest of poor, effective information and physi­cal security, crises management and many facets of the lives of citizens of Pakistan depend on Nadra's ability to assert Pakistani identity in an efficient, safe and widely accepted manner.n

Transparency Internationals Corruption Index 2009: Muslim nations high on Corruption list
Compiled by A Staff Writer
Some of the Muslim countries have been ranked the most corrupt states in the world by Transparency International (TI) which has been making public a list ranking the status of corruption since 1995 among world nations. Of the 180 countries taken into reckoning, Somalia in Africa is the most corrupt state. It may be reminded that due to conflict raging there since long, the governance has suffered immeasurably there. Iraq ranks 176 and Afghanistan 179. Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines have been placed at 139th position while Saudi Arabia is ranked 63rd on the list. India is 84th on the list. Indonesia the most populous Muslim countries stands at 111th position while neighbouring Malaysia is on 56th.

In the Middle East and North Africa, Qatar (22nd ) and the United Arab Emirates (30th) improved their scores over previous years. They were followed by Israel (32nd) , Oman (39th), Bahrain (46th ) and Jordan (49th). Worst-perceived countries in the region aside from Iraq included Iran (168th), Yemen (154th ), and Lebanon and Libya (130th).

The list accords first position to New Zealand as the least corrupt state on the earth. It is followed by Denmark, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and Iceland in that order.

The TI survey and ranking is used by several companies and MNCs around the world for investments beyond the borders of their base countries. The data is used by risk analysts, World Bank, corporations and trade bodies. Even nations flaunt their status on TI list to vie for investments.
The TI relies mainly on the opinions of country experts, risk analysts, and business leaders, both residents and non-residents, whose views are compiled by a total of 10 institutions, among them the World Bank, the African and Asian Development Banks, Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Bertelsmann Foundation. The data is compiled in TI's Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Corruption is defined as the misuse of public funds for private benefit either by bureaucrats or politicians or even armed forces personnel. It happens by way of bribery, kickbacks for public procurements (in case of tenders in India).

The CPI, which represents a composite of 13 international corruption polls and surveys, also included Uzbekistan, Chad, Sudan, and Myanmar at the bottom of its list.

Australia, Canada and Iceland are tied for the 8th position. The United States is on 19th position while the United Kingdom precedes by being on 18th. Germany and Ireland are in a tie-up for 14th place. France is placed 24th and Italy on 63rd while Turkey has 61st ranking. Interestingly, Russia, one of the most industrialized nations is on 146th position, much behind India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Several Muslim countries which were earlier part of Soviet Union, like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan com behind Russia. Only Kazakhstan has improved its position in the recent years and found a place ahead of Russia. China is 79th . In the sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana emerges the least corrupt state with an overall ranking of 37th while South Africa trailed at 40th place.

Each country is ranked on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 as the least corrupt. Somalia, the index's most corrupt country, received a score of 1.1, while New Zealand at the other end of the scale scored 9.4. Only 49 of the 180 countries scored a 5.0 or higher. The survey's mean score was 3.3.
From the South Asian region, Sri Lanka stands on 97th position while Nepal is much behind on 144th position.

In releasing this year's index, TI stressed the worst-performing countries appeared to share a history of long-standing conflict, with disastrous results on their governance. "The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions," said TI's chairman, Huguette Labelle.
Book lists '500 Most Influential Muslims': Top 20 inclusions seem to be less convincing and dictated
By ‘Political Correctness’
A new book titled The 500 Most Influential Muslims 2009, published by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Jordan in concert with Georgetown's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has listed 500 Muslims who made some impact and exerted some influence. Seemingly a project sponsored by the royal families, the book has given the first place to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Second place goes to Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenai, the spiritual leader of Iran. King Mohammad of Morocco finds third place and King Abdullah II Al Hussain of Jordan occupies fourth place. Fifth place goes to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Film star Shahrukh Khan and Musician A. R. Rahman from India also find a place among the 500.

Though the listing is less convincing, the book has been edited by Professors John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin at Georgetown University in Washington. John Esposito was formerly religious advisor to President Clinton. (It is useful to be reminded that US Presidents have hundreds of advisors.) However, Prof. John Esposito's credentials as a scholar are robust. He is currently director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center and Kalin is spokesman for the Common Word dialogue initiative. It is planned to be an annual survey of the top Muslim personalities around the world. Political correctness seems to be the major factor in determination of the top 20 of the personalities, it seems. Shaikh of Azhar University Tantawi, Cairo, famous scholar Shaikh Qardawi, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Turkish scholar and leader Fatehullah Gulen (residing in Washington D.C.), Abdul Wahab, Ismaili spiritual leader Prince Kareem Aghakhan, Ameer of Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan and Hassan Nasrallah, chief of Hezbollah, Lebanon too figure in the first 20.

The book lists the most influential people in the Muslim world, within various categories: scholarly, political, administrative, lineage, preachers, women, youth, philanthropy, development, science and technology, arts and culture, media, and radicals. The top 50 fit into six broad categories: 12 are political leaders (kings, generals, presidents), four are spiritual leaders (Sufi shaykhs), 14 are national or international religious authorities, three are “preachers,” six are high-level scholars, and 11 are leaders of movements or organizations.

The listing also includes an extensive Arts and Culture Section. The general 'Arts and Culture Section included the names of singers Salif Keita (Mali), Youssou n'dour (Senegal), Raihaan (Malaysia), Yusuf Islam and Sami Yusuf (United Kingdom), Dawud Wharnsby (Canada), musician A.R Rahman (India), filmstar Shahrukh Khan (India), comedian Azhar Usman (USA) and martial artist Yue Ma (China). All the Quran reciters (qariis) listed in the book are from Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Khalifa re-elected UAE president
Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan was re-elected president of the United Arab Emirates for a sec­ond five-year term in the second week of November, the official news agency WAM announced.

The Federal Council, made up of the rulers of the seven emirates in the UAE, selected Sheikh Khalifa, 61. He first rose to the presidency as Abu Dhabi's ruler in 2004. The Federal Council designates both the president and vice president.

US town elects a Muslim mayor
Granite Falls (US): This small mining and logging town in the state of Washington on the Pacific coast has elected 54-year old Pakistan born Haroon Saleem as the mayor of the town. He won 61 per cent of the nearly 800 votes cast on November 3. Saleem is a bar owner and has earlier served in Iran as a seaman and drove taxi as an illegal alien in San Fransico. He gained citizenship in 1980 when illegal immigrants were granted amnesty. He was born in Rawalpindi and entered US in 1979 on a student visa and lived on to earn a livelihood. Saleem said : Nobody here thinks he is from a minority and he can achieve anything that he dreams.